By Andy Frisk
November 4, 2009 - 19:48
Set in 1957, “Broken House of Cards: Chapter One: Ladies’ Harm Journal” tells the tale of Betty Reynold’s seemingly perfect life. With a sales executive for a husband, a daughter in private school, an “exclusive” apartment, and a shopping buddy of equal social stature, Betty’s life seems picture perfect in the way that many pictures of life in 1950’s America seemed perfect, but underneath the surface were anything but. Betty has doubts about her life and, in particular, her identity. “I just…I worry I’m losing my own…identity, I suppose. Am I only Stan’s wife? Am I only Linda’s mother?” Her monotonous life is becoming unbearable. Her husband never listens to her, makes her suffer through Gunsmoke on TV instead of letting her watch Milton Berle, has her bound up in a routine and regimented sex life (“It being Tuesday, Betty realized that Stan would expect to have sex. Thursday and Sunday being their other regular nights. As usual, he never looked in her eyes.”), and worst of all, appears completely disinterested in her insofar as she is able to maintain his desires. Her daughter is too involved in school projects, and her busy body shopping buddy is too involved in her own superficial dramas to pay Betty any serious attention. When Betty begins to undergo certain changes, of a decidedly unsettling, physical kind, her daughter and friends remain as oblivious to her changes as her husband does. Betty has grown five inches taller, her clothes no longer fit, she is developing dark shiny roots in her hair, and most horrific of all, she floats off the ground on occasion and vomits live insects…
Betty finally learns of Madam Xanadu and her unique talents from a friend of a friend, and seeks her out for help by the end of Matt Wagner’s genuinely creepy and engaging first part of what is looking to be a brilliant new story arc in Madame Xanadu. There have been many social, philosophical, and political commentaries on the psychology and phoniness of life in the America of the 1950s in many artistic mediums ranging from novels to films, but Wagner’s new tale looks to take the rather tired theme of examining the racism, sexism, consumerism, and identity issues of the decade to new heights by infusing it with what is sure to be a powerfully allegorical supernatural theme. Wagner’s pacing of Betty’s traumas throughout the issue is wonderful and builds to a crescendo of horror leaving the reader on edge, wanting more information, and awaiting Chapter Two of Betty’s tale anxiously. After a rather lackluster previous story arc that trod ground that Wagner had visited repeatedly in the pages of Sandman Mystery Theatre, “Broken House of Cards” looks to be a return to the greatness of Madame Xanadu’s first story arc.
Even more exciting to this reviewer, Madame Xanadu #16 marks the return of the great pencil work of Amy Reeder Hadley. The incredibly sharp, clean (actually pristine) look of her crisp artwork is unlike nearly any other in the entire medium of sequential art. Her unique style, which she has described as falling into the manga tradition, is so much more than what that word encapsulates. Her mastery of her work’s time period’s style of dress, architecture, and vehicles is truly astounding in its detail. Plus, anatomy and facial expression are great as well. When Guy Major adds his superb coloring skills to Hadley’s pencils and Friend’s ink work, Madame Xanadu becomes one of the best looking books being published right now.
Wagner, Hadley, Friend, and Major have a major hit on their hands with Madame Xanadu. After a brief hiatus, Madame Xanadu is ready challenge the many high quality and literary books published by Vertigo for the title of the imprint’s best series. With the amount of really great books being printed by DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint right now, there’s no shortage of great titles for readers to choose from. Madame Xanadu should be one of them, definitely.
Rating: 10 /10